Monday, December 18, 2017

The Big Heart of Miss Gay America: Pageant Owners Announce Creation Charitable Foundation to Mentor, Benefit LGBTQ Youth

For the world’s longest running and most prestigious female impersonator competition, it’s much more than drag race.  
Revered drag pageant launches 
Miss Gay America Excellence Foundation

This summer, Miss Gay America owners Michael Dutzer and Rob Mansman donated $5000 to Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation--and made her the first ever honorary Miss Gay America! Now they've launched their own charitable organization, the Miss Gay America Foundation.

For the world’s longest running and most prestigious female impersonator competition, it’s much more than drag race.  
Revered drag pageant launches 
Miss Gay America Excellence Foundation

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(New York, NY) December 18, 2017–Since the founding of the Miss Gay America pageant in Nashville back in 1972–37 years before “RuPaul’s Drag Race”–giving has always played a key role in the legacy of the world’s first, longest running and most prestigious female impersonator competition.  Living up to the pageant’s motto to “Be Excellent,” over the years, Miss Gay America titleholders have donated millions of dollars to a variety of charitable organizations across the U.S.  Heralding the arrival of the 2017 holiday season, the Miss Gay America pageant co-owners Michael Dutzer and Rob Mansman are proud to announce the launch of the Miss Gay America Excellence Foundation.

“We are forming the MGA Excellence Foundation to mentor LGBTQ youth and work with youth centers to provide supportive, self-affirming, highly positive experiences,” says foundation co-founder Mansman.

(l-r) Miss Gay America pageant owners and founders of the Miss Gay America Foundation, Michael Dutzer, Miss Gay America 2018 Deva Station of Columbus, OH, and Rob Mansman.  Photo by BJKJ Illusions.

“Most of the people in the Miss Gay America organization can relate to growing up being bullied or being different. We've all faced rejection and struggled to find ourselves,” says foundation co-founder Michael Dutzer.  

“As we tour the country for nearly two-dozen preliminary state and regional pageants throughout the year, we want to reach out and offer support to youth centers in areas we visit in any way we can–from donations, to fundraising to motivational personal appearances by our titleholders,” explains Mansman. “Eventually we would like to raise enough money to issue grants to youth organizations and provide scholarships,” he says.  

Miss Gay America Excellence Foundation 

More on the history of giving by the Miss Gay America pageant below.

The top 10 contestants at Miss Gay America 2018 in New Orleans in October. Photo by Deejers Designs.

We Are Family  

From its inception, the Miss Gay America has always been far more than a competition. It is a family. Those participating are embraced by a strong sense of fellowship (aka “sisterhood”), support, and mentoring, often forming lifetime friendships, which for some, go back decades.  

While many contestants are lucky enough to have the full support of their families, such as Miss Gay America 2013 Sally Sparkles, whose family shows up at the pageant entourage-style in matching “Momma”, “Sister, and “Niece” team jackets, others have been estranged, disavowed or even thrown out by their families.  

Where blood families falter, the Miss Gay America family steps in, giving those who’ve been rejected the support and friendship that not only allows them to courage to find and be themselves, but also the inspiration and motivation to pay the love forward.

Photo by D.J. Bonet V'lentino & After Six Photography Studios.

“For me I was homeless, I had absolutely nothing and I didn’t have much family, “ says Justin Natvig aka Miss Gay North Carolina 2015 Vivian Vaughn (above). “I was craving structure and I found that in the Miss Gay America system. They practically raised me. I never imagined that I’d be here looking at my life thinking whoa, you’ve changed yourself from a homeless teenager into a UNC grad, Miss Gay North Carolina America 2015, and now are making a difference and helping people. For that, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to this system.”  

Natvig not only works for an organization that ships humanitarian relief cargo around the world as his day job, but is Chair of the Crape Myrtle Festival (CMF), an all-volunteer organization which annually raises and distributes over $100,000 to various HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ equal rights organizations across North Carolina.

Danny Rose performing at the Watch Your Hat & Coat Saloon, first home of the Miss Gay America pageant. Early 70s. Photo courtesy of Jerry Peek.

Living, Loving and Giving  

For over 45 years, giving back as been a key tenet of the Miss Gay America pageant—even back in early days, when gay money was considered tainted.  

Jerry Peek, who founded the Miss Gay America pageant back in 1973, says that much as he wanted to give, it was a different era. His initial--and subsequently only--attempt to give to the March of Dimes was rebuffed. “We offered a donation and were told they would not accept it. They did not want to be associated with a group like MGA.”  

However, Norman Jones, who owned the pageant from 1975 – 2005, said, “During my time as owner, each Miss Gay America had some sort of cause or platform that he would promote during his reign, whether it was children with HIV/AIDS, organizations that supported those with HIV/AIDS organizations, local food banks, etc. Myself, I donate all income from the sale of my book to charity of the purchasers choosing.”  

One of the most stellar fundraisers in the pageant’s history is Miss Gay America 1995 Patti Le Plae Safe (Rodd Gray). Throughout his career, Rodd has raised millions for innumerable organizations and causes, including revered Texas organizations, Home for the Holidays Texas, Black Tie Dinner, and The Resource Center.

Earlier this year, after mother of a bullied nine year old posted on Facebook, Patti responded by making him the guest of honor at the Dallas Pride parade. Rodd was hosting on the main stage and insisted that Matty needed to be seated right there with him. The family accepted his offer. Mom, Dad, an older sister, and Matty all drove to Dallas from their home near Longview so Matty could go to Pride. Read the full story in the Dallas Voice here

Miss Gay America 2017 Suzy Wong and Miss Gay America 2018 Deva Station. Photo by BJKJ Illusions.

Crowned in New Orleans this October, Miss Gay America 2018 Deva Station (above), kicked off her reign with a Citation of Recognition from the Mayor of Columbus, Ohio, in appreciation of her fundraising platform. “I have chosen to spend my year raising funds and awareness for Camp Sunrise, a camp in Ohio for kids infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS,” says Deva Station, adding, “My goal is to raise $15,000.00 and present a check in that amount to the organization at my step down next October. Currently I am in talks for various fundraising events throughout Columbus.”

For Miss Gay America 2017 Suzy Wong (above), who will be directing the promotional efforts of the Excellence Foundation, philanthropy is in her blood. “In addition to my family’s continued support of an orphanage in Thailand where children live with HIV,” she says, “during my recent reign as Miss Gay America 2017 I worked with many great LGBTQ organizations and allies, such as #expresslove, Palm Springs Pride, the HRC, Save the Children, The Victory Fund and Time Out Youth.”

Throughout LGBTQ history, drag queens have been at the heart of pro-active LGBTQ culture, from politics to charity. One would be hard-pressed to find a fundraising event without a drag queen leading the charge.

From beating volunteers out of the bushes to headlining major charity events, drag queens are the undeniable heroes of LGBTQ society, so it is only fitting that the world’s most revered drag pageant is now mother to the MGA Excellence Foundation, our newest LGBTQ charitable organization.

Below meet just a few of the current and former Miss Gay America title-holders doing good works, listed alphabetically by title:  

Miss Gay America 2015 Blair Williams (above) attended national events and raised over $15,110 during her reign for the Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to young people ages 13-24. She remains active in her community of Savannah, GA, participating in numerous events each year to raise money and awareness for local LGBTQ organizations.

Miss Gay Arizona America 2017 Olivia Gardens (above) is in the midst of an ambitious campaign to raise $5000.00 for the Phoenix Pride Scholarship Fund.  

Miss Gay Arizona America 2016 Nevaeh McKenzie turned her weight-loss/fitness journey into a cause, raising money with her #fitfish merchandise (tops, hats, sweats), which she then donated to the OneNTen and Mulligans Manor organizations, both of which provide a safe and supportive environment for Phoenix area youth. Nevaeh is also in talks to bring an Arizona chapter of “Drag Queen story time” to Phoenix, which will also benefit local charities.  

1st Alternate to Miss Gay Central States America 2017 Miss Blaze Duvall owns My Favorite Thrift Store benefiting Youth Home in Little Rock, AR, and over the past 10 years has donated over half a million dollars to local charities.  

Miss Gay Louisiana America 2017 Arilyn Roberts is a member of the mystic Mardi Gras krewe of Apollo Baton Rouge whose Apollo AIDS and crisis foundation raises and donates money year ‘round to people in need, including flood victims who lost everything.

Miss Gay Missouri America 2017 Tabbi Katt (above) is deeply involved with Growing American Youth, an LGBT youth support organization in the St. Louis area, where she advises youth meetings, volunteers as a guest chaperone and entertainer at the annual Youth Prom, and produces fundraising shows and special “under 21” events.

Miss Gay Tennessee America 2017 Barbra Seville is actually based in Phoenix where her Barbra Seville's Wonderful 100 organization annually raises money for AIDS Walk Phoenix. This year her team was the #1 fundraising team for AIDS Walk 2017, raising nearly $31,000. (Below.)